Woodward Case: The American backlash - Is America turning against the a u pair?

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A rumble of anger rolled across America yesterday as disbelief over the conviction of Louise Woodward was replaced by a sense of bewilderment that she was sentenced to just 279 days for manslaughter.

Support for the au pair evaporated as Americans asked how a judge could find her guilty of killing a child one minute, and then free her the next. The feeling was best expressed by Jay Leno, the American television presenter, who told his audience: "Looks like OJ's got a new golfing buddy."

A poll in the USA Today showed that 52 per cent of Americans agreed with Judge Hiller Zobel's decision to reduce Woodward's sentence from murder to manslaughter. But 52 per cent also thought he was wrong to free her immediately.

Stephen Colwell, one of the trial jurors, said he was convinced Woodward had killed the baby. "I was not unhappy with the judge's ruling for some form of manslaughter, but to follow that up with nothing for a sentence seems unduly lenient to me," he said. "It's interesting that the time she has served is about as long as the baby was alive; I don't think that's appropriate."

Another juror, who did not wish to be named, said: "I don't think any of us thought she intentionally murdered Matthew. But ... something happened to that baby and it happened when Louise was taking care of him."

Matthew Storin, the editor of the Boston Globe, which carried the punning headline "Saved by Zobel", said sympathy had switched to Deborah and Sunil Eappen. "The initial response after the verdict was predominantly sympathy to Louise Woodward ... But

Boston radio reporter Flo Jonic, who covered the case for WBZ radio, said: "People are largely disgusted with this ... Three to five years would have put some value on this baby's life. This girl now has the rest of her life to look forward to and Matthew is dead."